x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

GCC summit to discuss Iranian provocation

Foreign ministers plan to gather in Riyadh after the UAE requests a special session of the regional body.

A handout picture released by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's official website shows Ahmadinejad waving at supporters during a visit to the island of Abu Musa on April 11, 2012.
A handout picture released by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's official website shows Ahmadinejad waving at supporters during a visit to the island of Abu Musa on April 11, 2012.

GCC foreign ministers are to hold a special meeting in Riyadh next week to discuss the Iranian president's highly charged visit to the disputed island of Abu Musa.

Wednesday's meeting comes at the request of the UAE, which claims sovereignty over Abu Musa, along with two other islands in the Gulf, Greater and Lesser Tunb.

Yesterday, Iran's state news agency released photographs of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visiting Abu Musa, the first time an Iranian head of state had been to the strategically located island since Iranian forces overran it and the Tunbs on the eve of the UAE's foundation in 1971. The photographs showed Mr Ahmadinejad waving an Iranian flag to a crowd of island residents who also had flags in hand after his arrival on Wednesday.

His provocative visit, which came amid rising tension between Iran and the West over Tehran's nuclear programme, has been condemned by the UAE, the FNC, Bahrain, Morocco, the Arab League and the GCC, among others.

A former senior European diplomat to Tehran expressed surprise at the island foray.

"Given the importance of the UAE to Iran, I wouldn't expect Iran to escalate this," he said. "Iran needs the UAE. Given the way the UAE has been tightening financial and trade restrictions in line with Washington's wishes, it was unwise of Ahmadinejad to make a high-profile visit to Abu Musa, which Emiratis would obviously consider provocative."

He added: "Ahmadinejad's upsetting the UAE won't go down well with the few in Iran who recognise that Iran needs to narrow its differences with its neighbours rather than exacerbate them."

Indeed, the Iranian government appeared to make a conciliatory move late Thursday, when a statement by the republic's deputy foreign minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, on the website of state-run Press TV invited UAE officials "for dialogue to resolve any misunderstandings between the two nations".

At the same time, he called the presidential visit an "internal affair which has been made in the framework of [Ahmadinejad's] provincial tours," and was quoted as stressing the "historical and eternal belonging" of the islands to Iran.

Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the UAE foreign minister, has said the Iranian president's move was a "flagrant violation" of UAE sovereignty.

One day after the visit, the UAE government recalled its ambassador to Iran "for consultations".

The UAE has repeatedly pressed its claim to the islands in the past, directly with Iran and through international bodies.

Iran invaded the three Gulf islands on November 30, 1971 as Britain withdrew its forces from the Gulf. A small force of Ras Al Khaimah police resisted the invaders. Three of them were killed. The local population was rounded up and put on a beach in RAK that evening. It was an act that was condemned at the time by Sheikh Zayed, the UAE's founding President.

The Tehran-based Iranian news website Tabnak on Thursday criticised the UAE for making comments that "started a new physiological war against Iran and the territorial integrity of our country". It accused foreign media of portraying the trip as unusual, adding that "it is necessary that our diplomatic institution convey its objection to the UAE government and remind them of Iran's borderlines at least by summoning the country's ambassador ".

Iran has told its Gulf neighbours it would never forgive them if they "followed American plots", as the United States and Europe are pressing Iran to give up its nuclear programme by imposing economic sanctions.

vtodorova@thenational.ae

* With additional reporting by Anna Zacharias, Michael Theodoulou and Agence France-Presse